Police fired tear gas in downtown Caracas on Thursday as anti-government student protesters clashed with supporters of late President Hugo Chavez in an increasingly volatile atmosphere ahead of next month’s election. Several hundred students were marching to the election board’s headquarters to demand a clean vote when they were blocked by government supporters who hurled stones, bottles and eggs at them, a Reuters witness said. Some of the students threw stones back, other witnesses said. “We were holding a peaceful march. … All we want is democracy,” said law student Eduardo Vargas, 19, whose eye was injured in the incident. “We’re all Venezuelans. We just want a fair vote.”
Police fired tear gas towards the 150 or so government supporters and formed a cordon between the two sides.
It was the first outbreak of violence since an election was called on April 14 for the South American OPEC nation following Chavez’s death from cancer two weeks ago.
Both candidates, acting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, have been trading personal accusations as they rally supporters for the vote.
One onlooker, Gustavo Malave, a 78-year-old who works for one of the socialist “community councils” set up during Chavez’s 14-year rule, blamed the students for starting the trouble.